When I was working in the restaurant industry some odd years ago, I relished the time just before opening. Servers and managers went out back to smoke and bitch and I would stand in the dining room looking out over the polished silverware in the fading afternoon light. The room looked like an empty, half-lit stage just before opening night. Wijnanda Deroo’s third solo exhibit, Inside New York Eateries, presently showing at the Robert Mann Gallery, articulates this moment in a photo series that documents New York’s culinary institutions as they sit empty, before the evening’s cast has taken a seat. Along with views of Milon and the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant—all standing eerily silent—the series also captures beloved, now-shuttered venues.
When I’m out at a restaurant, I barely notice the actual space itself, focusing instead on table conversation, entrees, a famous face a table over, or background music. That’s why it’s surprisingly gripping to see these places void of the energy we use to identify a place, consciously or not. Seeing Deroo’s photo of the now-closed Tavern on the Green is uncanny because of the restaurant’s relationship with the New Yorkers who know its history – and how it came to close.
We’re proud when we see our street corner in a movie scene; we can place ourselves at an empty table in Deroo’s shot of Delmonico’s. It’s both aspirational and territorial—which, in itself, is the magic behind New York’s nightlife at the heart.
Wijnanda Deroo’s Inside New York Eateries will run until January 29th at the Robert Mann gallery. Pop in before your customary dinner reservation.